Power of Life
Mons Leidvin TAKLE (b. 1942)
Power of Life (2007) [5:29]
George SHEARING (1919-2007)
Amazing Grace [3:03]
William WALTON (1902-1983)
Orb and Sceptre (1952-3) [8:13]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Aria (Cantilena) from Bachianas brasileiras No. 5 (1938) [5:46]
Marius MONNIKENDAM (1896-1977)
Toccata No. 1 (1970) [4:58]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Andante and variations in G major K501 (1786) [9:41]
Hans-André STAMM (b. 1958)
Rapsodia alla Latina (2009) [7:10]
Marcel DUPRÉ (1889-1971)
Ave maris stella (1919) [5:56]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Rhapsodies sur des cantiques Bretons (1866) [5:56]
Vincenzo PETRALI (1830-1889)
Allegro festoso [4:29]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
Pieds-en-l’air (1927)
Franz WAGNER (1870-1929)
Trionfo della vita [4:23]
Christopher Herrick (organ)
rec. 2014, Poblet Monastery, Tarragona, Spain.
HYPERION CDA68129 [67:08]

I don’t normally go in for these ‘organ fireworks’ types of programme, but was drawn to this one by the power of the blurb which concludes, “If you like your organs meaty, but with a good sense of humour, this one is for you.”

Entertainment is central to this album, and Norwegian organist and composer Mons Leidvin Takle’s Power of Life is one of those irrepressibly “over the top [and] energetic” pieces which wins you over through its sheer effusive joy in existence. The main tune could easily have landed from a 1970s Eurovision Song Contest, but the accompaniment takes on a life of its own and we’re treated to a real work-out from the very fine Metzler organ in Poblet Monastery.

Following such a remarkable title track isn’t easy, but George Shearing’s set of variations on Amazing Grace is a suitably juicy number, with scrunchy and at times seemingly impossible progressions and plenty of colour from the organ. Following these lush pastures, William Walton’s Orb and Sceptre march written for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953 has our moustache bristles twitching in all the patriotically correct directions. From the grey streets of 1950s London we are warmed by the southern sounds of Heitor Villa-Lobos’s famous Aria (Cantilena) from Bachianas brasileiras No. 5. Vox humana vibrato in the melody delivers some contrast, and while the definition in the accompaniment isn’t as distinctive as with the original eight cellos this is a nice enough version. More interesting is Marius Monnikendam’s surprising Toccata No. 2, which opens with a grand gesture and builds up a huge head of steam, screwing up tension with rising harmonies and drilling home its message with driving rhythms. Following this with the Andante and Variations K 501 makes Mozart sound like a joke but this arrangement for organ works very well indeed, expanding the four-handed piano sonorities and taking us some way towards the mechanical origins of this music. The minor variation is particularly affecting.

German composer Hans-André Stamm’s Rapsodia alla latina was written for an international organ festival in Mexico and is chock-full of latin rhythms. Whether these really work or not on a massive cathedral organ is beside the point, an in any case the trumpet stop is given plenty of air in this piece and it’s all great fun. Marcel Dupré is one of the best known names here in terms of organ music, and the Ave maris stella from his Op. 18 ‘Vespers’ are evocative settings of that famous melody, surrounded in characteristic fashion with magical haloes of organ figuration and added layers of piquant musical flavour, all topped off with a rousing grand toccata. Camille Saint-Saëns didn’t write a great deal of organ music and his three Rhapsodies sue des cantiques bretons are fairly unassuming, with nice touches such as added chimes in the rustic second movement, and imaginative use of the simple Breton folk-tunes on which the music is based. Vincenzo Petrali was based in Bergamo and is remembered today as the teacher of Enrico Bossi, Italy’s emblematic composer for organ. The Allegro festoso is the jaunty and celebratory finale to Petrali’s Messa solenne, which sounds as if it’s about as solemn as Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle. Peter Warlock’s Pieds-en-l’air is from his famous Capriol Suite for string orchestra, placed as a warmly gentle penultimate track before the grand finale of Franz Wagner’s Trionfo della vita. Wagner, not to be confused with the more famous Richard, was organist at the Grünenwaldkirche in Berlin, his work concluding this fine disc with a spectacular C major climax.

Superbly recorded and nicely documented with a good selection of attractive photos, this is the kind of generous organ programme which should satisfy all but the most po-faced of purists. The weighty sonorities and refined colours of the Metzler organ, perfectly suited to the large but not overly swampy acoustic of the Royal Abbey of Santa Maria de Poblet, are a treat. Steered by the secure musical hands and feet of now as good as legendary Christopher Herrick, this is indeed a meaty and richly entertaining disc.

Dominy Clements
Previous review: Dan Morgan


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